Birding in Africa: Week 2

Mark Wilson updates us on his progress in Nigeria (read his first post here):

Tuesday 19th February

I woke up this morning just before dawn and my alarm clock. The room was still dark enough that the green lights playing up and down the side of the internet router on the shelf in front of me cast a faint greenish hue for a few metres around them.

I was just determining to get a couple more minutes kip when I thought I saw a light flicker on and off in the middle of the ceiling. Thinking I might have imagined it, I watched and waited until it came again, a small but distinct pulse of warm light that came and went, quite literally, in a flash. It was too reddish and in the wrong place to be my light bulb, but this was a possibility that I scarcely considered.

Emin’s Shrike: The first bird I extracted from the net on Friday morning’s trapping session. It was a ringing tick for Emma, and made her pay for the privilege by taking some skin from her finger.

What I thought right away was “Firefly”! I watched several more flashes, and came to the conclusion that they were spaced at fairly regular intervals. I turned my phone to stopwatch mode, and pressed start on the next flash. The subsequent flash came at 47s. The one after that came at 1 minute 34s, and the next one at 2 minutes 21s. As I waited expectantly for the 3 minute 8s flash, which came exactly on time, it occurred to me that these intervals were rather precise for an insect. Nothing against inverts, mind, but I’d never heard of one you could set your clock by. So I turned on the light to have a look at it, hoping it wouldn’t fly off. It didn’t. Smoke alarms usually don’t.

Wasp Nest: I think these look particularly evil – they make normal wasps look quite cheerful. Manu and I found this on a point count. The conversation went something like this: Me: [Peering into bush] “What’s this? It looks like some kind of weird fruit!” Manu: “It’s a wasp nest.” Me: Inarticulate noise, accompanied by a hasty step backwards. Manu: “Yeah!”

So, I’ve not seen any fireflies here, though the MSc students assure me that they occur here during the wet season. I have, however, seen lots of beautiful butterflies, some very scary-looking ichneumon type things that make a noise like an electric razor when they fly close to your head and are alledgedly harmeless (unless you’re one of the unfortunate beasties it parasitizes) some even scarier wasps clustered around their nest that I thought at first was a fruit (SO glad I didn’t touch it, see photo for details), and other cool stuff like praying mantis, damselflies, camel spiders, termites… ants, ants and more ants, cockroaches, mosquitos and ants.

Not quite the haven for invertebrate diversity that a tropical rainforest is, but there’s considerably more going on than in northern Europe. The continuous hum of buzzing, churring, and chirping during the night is a deeply comforting and restful sound.

Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu: These little finches look like they’ve been painted by an imaginative child, or are taking part in a ritualised syle of Asian theatre. They are one of the commonest birds around the guest house, but I still love to watch them, and hoping to see one in the hand before I leave!

Sunday 24th February

Today is to be a day of writing, in an attempt to make up for the first half of the weekend, when we were mostly devoid of power. Apparently this happens quite often in Nigeria, and even in APLORI where we are doubly buffered from such events by a stack of mammoth solar-powered 200Ah batteries (the inverter broke) and a petrol-powered generator (the petrol ran out), we are not immune.

Of course this can be frustrating, but there is also something liberating about being in a situation where you can’t access your computer. Forced to read and help Emma try and resight some of her colour-ringed Whinchats. What a hard life!

APLORI Cliff Chat: Mocking Cliff Chat – centrepiece of the APLORI logo (which you can see at the bottom of the photo, on the door of the truck), and one of the most attractive birds we see regularly around the guesthouse.

This week’s teaching activities will consist of practice transects surveys and geolocator fitting demonstrations (courtesy of Emma, ably assisted by various Whinchats), reviewing various different approaches to conservation, bringing on a few longer-term assignments (including the students’ MSc project proposals and some mini-projects using bird and habitat data they collected in the reserve, and demonstration and discussion of sampling methodologies (particularly sampling of insects and habitat).

Vervet Monkey: this young male monkey could see me, but wasn’t particularly concerned as long as I stayed on the veranda. When they are climbing (or walking along the barbed wire fence around the house, the prehensile tail is constantly moving to adjust its balance and occasionally hold onto things for support.

I’m hoping we can arrange for a moth-trapping session to liven up the latter teaching element. There is so little light-pollution here that, on a still and cloudy night, even a simple light-bulb hung above a sheet would attract numerous weird and wonderful species. The challenging bit would be identifying them, as there is no handy field guide to West African moths.

I’ve got in touch with someone at the Natural History Museum in London to see how they would recommend we go about identifying our catch. If we can start to build up a photo database of the species found here, it could act as the nucleus for a useful identification resource for the reserve and surrounding area.

Bruce’s Green Pigeon: Named after the 18th century naturalist who first described it, this bird specialises on one species of fig, the fruits of which surround it in this photo.

This entry seems to have become distressingly skewed towards invertebrates, so I’ve tried to redress the balance with a few more birdy pics!

Mark

Amurum: The small reserve in which APLORI is situated, comprised of an attractive mix of gallery forest, open savannah and rocky outcrops.

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